Scattered Thoughts – Fate/Cooking vs Fate/Umu

   Winter season was blessed (or cursed depending of your perspective) with two Fate shows, but hardly anyone talked about them. The first one, Emiya-san Chi no Kyou no Gohan isn’t precisely a normal show because it’s being released only once a month by ufotable. Moreover, it’s not even a normal Fate, but more about that later. In the other corner we have Fate/Extra Last Encore, a Shaft title, boasting of having the brain behind the whole franchise – Kinoko Nasu – on board. After Apocrypha people may have become too full of Fate or otherwise I don’t know how to explain lack of interest in these shows. On the other hand, Fate has become a nine-headed dragon and each of its new heads seemingly gets more and more unlike what people expect Fate to be. Tackling such a beast always demands more than starting yet another stand-alone show. The current situation of Fate isn’t necessarily a bad thing but sometimes it even looks like a certain show manages to keep afloat only because it’s attached to the franchise and not because it’s good by itself. Different as they are, stories of a single franchise should be comparable to a certain extent, shouldn’t they? So let’s try to look at what these two shows can offer.

Unbelievable peacefulness

 

     Emiya-san Chi no Kyou no Gohan surprisingly is a cooking show. I’ve no idea who thought that the franchise needed such a thing but apparently there’s a demand. Yet, generally I don’t like cooking shows.  In anime I look for stories, for characters, and if there isn’t anything, then at least for visuals that can carry the show. It’s no wonder then that a recipe-book-like narrative to me seems way too plain and boring. Take for example Amaama to Inazuma (if you can remember that one) – the story is paper-thin and the meat of the show (yeah, pun intended) is exposition-like food preparing, always ending in an obligatory “oishii”. If you saw two episodes of that show – you saw them all. On the other end of the spectrum is Shokugeki no Souma. I’ve also no interest in that show, and not only because it at its core apparently is a typical battle shounen. Probably no one would object if I call Shokugeki no Souma the king of exaggerated reactions – you know which ones. And I view them as silly and suspense-of-disbelief-shattering. Well, if you can enjoy that sort of comedy, good for you, but I’d rather go elsewhere. And among these extremities we have our Fate/Cooking. Most of times it’s a really low-key anime, going as far from its grand tournaments (where people die when they are killed) and lofty themes as possible.

Yum!

     Animation, as subdued as it is, finds its moments to shine. I just get an impression that ufotable is doing Cooking in a very relaxed way, knowing that they can put up a mediocre show and no one would probably object (because it’s a cooking short), but every single sakuga scene, if implemented, can elevate the show way higher than it deserves. It’s probably a great way for ufotable to train the youngsters and just do what they wish without much pressure. And that actually works really well. Take for example Saber trying to snuggle into a kotatsu. A very inconsequential scene, but such detail adds lots of warmth to the series. Cooking sakuga is obligatory, and I can say no more than that not drooling while looking at that sometimes isn’t even an option. 13 extra minutes a month (4 episodes so far have aired) shouldn’t hinder the current main goal of ufotable – the production of Heaven’s Feel – that much. And if I’m allowed to throw my two cents – I think ufotable would be better off sticking to 2D more – a task they clearly are up to. They can do 3D as well as anybody, but to me 2D appeals way more (and I prefer anime where characters and effects/backgrounds don’t clash). Please go back to the times of Kara no Kyoukai.

The comfy power of kotatsu

     As with many spin-offs, a purist may find many things unacceptable. Characters retain their nature but seemingly lose any knowledge of any battle royale that should (or should not) be happening. It’s like a permanent time-out in the middle of things. Another minor drawback is that I wouldn’t recommend the show to anyone who has no knowledge about Fate – seemingly all the Masters and Servants are already known to one another so it may be viewed as spoilers. Apart from that – the show still is very Fate-ish since Shirou’s cooking always was an important feature of the original visual novel.

Derpy Saber is the best

     And that’s that about Cooking – it’s pretty much a comfy 13 minutes experience every month that inevitably bring smile to my face. You can’t get more basic – people do some stuff and that eventually ties with some cooking – that’s all there is. Maybe low-key realism (there’s no exaggerations – if the meal is good, the face says it, and no one needs to shout, scream, jump and do other sorts of things) is precisely the point since in each and every Fate iteration fights are inevitably happening and in this case you get 100% peaceful slice of life. Yeah, it’s generic but if you love the characters (that are pretty much the same beloved ones from any principal Fate title) and want to see them doing something else than trying to kill each other, the show delivers.

The Umu Shinji with his girlfriend. Yeah...

     Let’s go on with an unrelated story. Several years ago I had to choose between several optional courses at my Uni. One of the candidates was quantum mechanics. That sounded intimidating so I asked one familiar lecturer about the professor who would give lectures about quantum mechanics and inquired about it being too difficult. (At first he said that if you think you understand QM, you’re wrong in the head, because you can only familiarize yourself with it.) About that professor he said that he’s fine, though he has been teaching the subject for so long that he may not remember anymore how does it feel when you don’t get anything. The point is that a similar thing happened with Nasu and Fate/Extra Last Encore. The man probably has gotten so absorbed in Fate that he thinks that everyone is as knowledgeable in that field as he is himself. Nasu claimed that Umu will be made in such a way that both people who have knowledge about Fate/Extra game (that is the original source for this anime) and people who haven’t would have a great time. I guess I have to object that.

Who's the center of all the attention?

     The problem is that even if you’re aware of the original Fate (as I am), this Moon Cell stuff doesn’t make much sense. It’s said that if you want to create modern innovative music, you should still start with examining the old classical stuff and mastering that. Only when you know the rules you can start breaking them because then you’ll actually know what you’re doing. Some may disagree with that but the point is that to break the rules you must know them. And rules in Umu are definitely already broken. I mean, ghosts, dead masters coming to life, a hybrid between a master and a servant, some time loops… I wouldn’t call it a well-defined game. And that’s a problem. The show can throw any seemingly nonsensical developments and object that “it wasn’t said it was impossible”. But then what is possible? Why some floors must have floor masters and some needn’t? Why and how people are reviving after death? People who are familiar with the original game might catch on many details and get way more of this show but for someone who has no idea what’s going on and what might happen, Umu is just an avalanche of unending questions that are continuously piling up. Sure, episode 10 started giving some answers but each episode seems to pose 10 questions and answer 1 so with such a pace we’re not getting anywhere.

All the Madoka fans assemble!

     Ok, I get that the show hasn’t ended yet, so accusing it of unanswered questions may not be very commendable but that’s not all. Speaking about the characters, there’s actually very little to say, in a bad sense. The star of the show always is Red Saber – the umu-ing heroine – and it almost seems like she’s the only reason for the show to exist. Her antics may bring amusement but she’s too static to become really memorable. Yes, she got some backstory time but that was both too late and too inconsequential – I still see her in the same light. Cool girls are cool, but girls with a bit of a depth are cooler by far. Hakuno as a protagonist should be quite important, shouldn’t he? Well, he just stumbles by, mumbling a word or two so we wouldn’t forget that he exists at all. Apart from that he occasionally either dies or enters a superhero mode and kills people (usually off-screen). Later (spoilahs!) it’s revealed that Hakuno isn’t really a person but something like a collective of all the people who died in this tournament. The idea itself is really interesting but such a reason of existence is only a statement that doesn’t make Hakuno as a person any more likable. The guy speaks about feeling hate but what of it? He doesn’t have a wish, he does only what Saber says him to do – why should I care? Other characters get even shorter ends of sticks. Take Rin for example – I can’t say anything about her apart from the fact that she exists there, helps Hakuno and can become a Lancer though she should be a Master. Similarly as with Red Saber, her backstory was surprisingly ineffective. Hakuno’s opponents might have been greatly detailed in the original game but in the anime they simply exist to be defeated. And spout some last minute motivations that mean only “I’m not a 1D character, care for me please!!”.

     The visuals are fine for the most part. Fine, but not much more. The forest level had nice shadows but the elephant in the room was two episodes with Gekidan Inu Curry – you know, stuff like Madoka’s witch world segments. At that point I temporarily regained my interest in Umu but apart from that, there’re nice shot here and there but already I can’t remember almost anything that concerns visuals from the first episodes.

Couldn't the Holy Grail War be decided by cooking skills?

     When I think about it, it sounds rather hypocritical that Lancer and Taiga playing together or Saber being content with her food to me seems simply lovely but constant umu-ing can’t carry the show. There’re other point though. Speaking about quality animation, right now in sakugabooru Umu has 22 entries. Cooking on the other hand also has about the same amount – 19 entries. Of course you can’t make any conclusions out of bare numbers, but just for the record – Cooking had only 4 episodes compared to 10 of Umu, and these episodes are half the normal length. Just saying. And well, there’s also the fact that Umu used up all its time and still 3 episodes are left to be released in the far future. I guess Shaft wanted to make one more signature move.

The power of Umu

     I must admit I’m biased. I’m well-aware of the original Fate characters while my first exposure to Extra material happened precisely through Umu. As much as I enjoy Cooking, I couldn’t put it among my seasonal favorites. Nonetheless, looking at the pure enjoyment it delivered far better than expected, especially considering where my preferences lie. Still, while Umu stays closer to a conventional Fate, it stumbles in many departments. I guess ultimately the difference between the two shows is that from my perspective one of them uses already established setting (or the setting simply doesn’t matter) to give a different message while the other “wastes” no time for establishing anything and just proceeds as if not caring about the confused viewers such as myself. Another point is delivering what has been promised. Cooking was advertised as a cooking show with Fate characters. What did we receive? Precisely that. One could question whether actual content is that good but at least to me it’s entertaining enough. Umu is a completely different case – there’s very little engagement to be found. I understand that I may not be the target audience but if Nasu himself assures that completely new people are welcome, I’m likely to believe that considering how much respect the man has acquired. Turns out that’s not the case, unless (hopefully) the last episodes prove me wrong.

     After all this talk there’s no question which series I prefer, is there? And what about you? Do you keep up with both of them? What are your thoughts about these two and Fate in general?

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